Etta Wriedt - Detroit's "Direct Voice" Medium
It's a measure of how little word gets around about Detroit's legends that, as an enthusiastic Fortean, I'd never heard of Etta Wriedt before. She was born in Detroit around 1860, and practiced as a medium for most of her fifties. Her specific claim to fame was she practiced as a "direct voice" medium, remaining conscious the entire time and speaking in the voices of the channeled spirits simultaneously with her own voice (sadly there is no record of her singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"). She was successful enough that she made many trips to England, and managed to impress some of the leading lights of Spiritualism. Given the phenomena they reported, regardless of their authenticity, it's not surprising she made an impression. For example, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the following of his personal experience with Wriedt in his History of Spiritualism:
A hymn was sung, and before the first verse was ended a fifth voice of excellent quality joined in and continued to the end. All three observers were ready to depose that Mrs. Wriedt herself was singing all the time. At the evening sitting a succession of friends came through with every possible, sign of their identity. One sitter was approached by her father, recently dead, who began by the hard, dry cough which had appeared in his last illness. He discussed the question of some legacy in a perfectly rational manner. A friend of the author's, a rather irritable Anglo-Indian, manifested, so far as a voice could do so, reproducing exactly the fashion of speech, giving the name, and alluding to facts of his lifetime. Another sitter had a visit from one who claimed to be his grand-aunt. The relationship was denied, but on inquiry at home it was found that he had actually had an aunt of that name who died in his childhood. Telepathy has to be strained very far to cover such cases.
Even if she was pulling a con, that's pretty impressive! Wriedt was credited with the ability to channel multiple, differently voiced, spirits simultaneously, and the ability to carry on channeled conversations in French, Dutch and even Arabic, even though she was supposedly not acquainted with any language other than English. Of course, all of this was accompanied by typical mediumistic effects, such as materializations or ghostly lights.
Stories and Speculation
Any storyteller worth their salt should be able to find uses for a person who can talk to the dead. Wriedt could serve as the deliverer of a post-mortem warning or secret, or for that matter one of her spirit contacts could tell her secrets of people still living. Of course, one could always assume that Wriedt was actually just a con artist who happened to be much more impressive than her fellows. And of course, Doyle when he shows up to defend her reputation!
For those looking for more information, the folks at thamarahua.com provide an overview of Wriedt's career, and the Spiritualist National Union provides an ebook version of Vice Admiral W. Usborne Moore's "The Voices", a 250 page book on Wriedt's mediumship.